The Ideas of 'imitatio and renovatio' around 1500 on the Example of an Unknown Work by the Maestro del Tondo Borghese at the Bishop's Palace in Cracow
The collections of the bishop's palace in Cracow include the picture 'Crucifixion with SS Jerome and Francis', an unknown work by the Maestro del Tondo Borghese, an anonymous Florentine painter who worked at the turn of the 15th and 16th centuries in the circle of Domenico Ghirlandaio and Cosimo Rosselli. The Cracow picture reveals direct links with the Maestro's work 'The Crucifixion with SS John the Baptist, Jerome, and Cosmas and Damian' in Sant' Ambrogio, Florence. In both paintings can be discerned some elements derived from Domenico Ghirlandaio's art, but interpreted in a dry, linear, archaized manner. In respect of iconography, the painting takes up the 'imitatio Christi' theme. In presenting the crucified Christ the artist emphasized His dual nature and brought into prominence the bleeding wounds, drawing his inspiration from the theology of St Thomas Aquinas, while artistically he referred to Fra Angelico's frescoes in the Convent of S. Marco in Florence. The presence of a pair of saints adoring the Crucified Christ in the Cracow picture is justified by their characteristic devoutness and their idea to imitate Christ. Jerome doing penance is a spiritual mirror of the suffering Christ, while the lion seated beside the saint denotes the taming of the beast in man. St Francis is an extreme example of 'imitatio Christi'; in the religious sense Jerome is the ideological ancestor of Francis. The presence of the two saints in the Crucifixion scene signifies a return to the idea of apostolic poverty, renunciation of worldly goods and, consequently, of secular culture. The Cracow picture illustrates changes in the religious approach in Italy, following the current of religious spiritualism - a reaction to the moderate religiousness of humanism. In the extreme manifestations of 'renouatio' in the Church of that time (Savonarola's preaching, ideas professed by the Hieronymites), any possibility of linking Christian thought with the antique tradition is denied. The Cracow work of the Maestro del Tondo Borghese expresses the ideas of 'renovatio' influenced by the Savonarolan movement of the actualizing dimension of a religious propaganda. This is an example of popular art intended for private devotion, whose archaized form seems rather odd in the High Renaissance period.
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